John Montaña, J.D., understands the difference a college education can make in someone’s life.

The son of coal miners, Montaña had a challenging childhood in Walsenburg, Colorado. After high school, he found work in manual labor, moving to Denver to work in a warehouse, in construction and on the railroads.

When a recession hit, Montaña lost his job and needed a new path, but the thought of attending college was terrifying. “I had to walk around the building three times to buck up my courage to go inside,” he said of his application experience at then-Metropolitan State College of Denver.

It was the perfect fit for the first-generation, non-traditional, blue-collar student of Mexican descent; the Land Use major thrived. Following graduation, Montaña worked in an assay lab. At the suggestion of an acquaintance, he took the LSAT with minimal preparation and no intention of attending law school. A high score resulted in numerous schools recruiting him, but Montaña wanted to attend the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.

With a letter of recommendation from MSU Denver professor Glenn Yarberry, Ph.D., and the support of DU law professor Murray Blumenthal, Ph.D., Montaña was admitted and received a full-ride scholarship.

“That was a complete game changer – a time when someone who doesn’t have to do anything for you does something to change your life,” he said. “When I asked how to thank them, they told me to pay it forward.”

After years of success as an attorney in legal consulting, trial lawyer and entrepreneur with a consulting company, Montaña wanted to give back to MSU Denver by establishing the Yarberry-Blumenthal Endowed Scholarship to honor his mentors and help students like him. With no designation for major or GPA requirements, it simply supports students who work hard and may not have another way to pay for their education –  the quintessential MSU Denver student.

“A lot of people find themselves coming into the world and adulthood lacking resources and mentors – critical factors for success,” he said. “I am trying to ensure people have access to those resources so they can thrive.”

Recently, Montaña cemented his legacy at MSU Denver by committing a planned gift after being inspired by a visit to Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic.

“Through everything that’s happened in Europe over the last 700 years, Charles University has continuously operated,” he said. “It occurred to me that with a legacy gift, you can have that kind of long-lasting impact; you can change the course of events for a long time after you’re gone.”

Montaña’s generosity extends to Africa, where he has helped his adopted Senegalese son grow a business and assisted with founding a non-profit keeping young girls from low-income families in school instead of working or being married off. “If you get that girl through high school, you don’t just help her; you help her great, great, great, great, great-grandchildren,” he said.

But it all started at MSU Denver, where Montaña saw potential beyond what he was doing in life.

“You can’t overstate the impact having access to education has on someone’s life – all of the little bits, from the academics to Yarberry’s mentorship,” he said. “It changed my life.”

“If each of us helps the next person, we can build a better world – you just have to be willing to take the necessary steps.”

For more information about making a planned gift, contact Shelley Thompson, associate vice president of University Advancement.